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Documentaries not so boring anymore

I knew what I was getting into when I decided to see the movie "We Are Marshall."

When there's a tragic plane crash involved, you know there will be many somber scenes. And when Matthew McConaughey is involved ... , well, like I said, I knew what I was getting.

The movie - which tells the story of how Marshall University rebuilt its football program after a horrific plane crash took the lives of nearly all its players and coaches - is a typical paint-by-numbers job. It is neither good nor bad, the type of middling fare that Hollywood likes to pass off as entertainment.

There were some sad scenes, McConaughey (playing head coach Jack Lengyel) had some light-hearted, funny lines. There was the prerequisite David-beats-Goliath sports moment when Marshall won its first game after the tragedy. All in all, it was a take-it-or-leave it type of movie, the kind that always seems a little better when you see it on HBO.

To me, the movie's best part was at the end, when pictures of the real-life players and coaches were shown next to ones of the actors who portrayed them. The same was done for a few scenes, a picture from an old newspaper juxtaposed with a shot from the movie.

It added poignancy to the film, but also left me feeling that my two hours would have been better served watching a documentary about the tragedy and how Marshall University and the city of Huntington, W.Va., handled it.

I think that says as much about documentary films these days as it does about "We Are Marshall." At a time when we're getting sequeled to death at the box office - look for the next editions of Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek and even Ocean's 11 this year - documentaries continue to provide a thought-provoking (but still entertaining) alternative.

Instead of the latest TV show reimagined for the big screen, you can watch documentaries detailing everything from wheelchair athletes ("Murderball") and global warming ("An Inconvenient Truth") to fast food ("Super Size Me") and animals both fun ("March of the Penguins") and frightening ("Grizzly Man").

What used to be a code word for boring is now the type of film making that really makes you think, from "Bowling for Columbine" to "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" among others.

"Hoop Dreams" is a true-life story more heartwarming and gut-wrenching than any you could make up, and "When We Were Kings" - the story of Muhammad Ali's epic heavyweight title fight vs. George Foreman in Zaire - is one of my favorite moves regardless of genre.

I recently read an article about "We Are Marshall" that bolstered my desire to see Marshall's story told in documentary form. The article said the play that led to the winning touchdown in the big game was changed in the movie to make it more exciting and dramatic. That's not something you have to worry about in a documentary.

Which is why next on my list of DVDs to watch is "Wordplay," a documentary about crossword puzzles and the people who work them. It may not be as flashy as "We Are Marshall," but at least I know what I'm getting.

Todd Cline can be reached via e-mail at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Tuesdays. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.